The Columnist
  National Poetry Day
Motorway Ballad
  La Monolog Victorienne
  Marmaduke, the White Knight
Elegie Composee dans un Rural Churchyard
  Clive James
  A Salute to Rabbie Burns
  Oedipus & his mum
  The Ballad of the Middle Laner
  Railway Ballad
  Roman Road
  Ballad of Belmarsh Gaol
  The Bishop of Bath & Wells






As older readers will know, I am an avid collector of motorway ballads. These are the long folk poems which have been composed and repeated by motorway travellers ever since the very earliest days of motorway travel, and, alas, very seldom written down. And at the weekend, after the legendary great frozen gridlock of the end of last week, I was lucky enough to be told this ballad by an ancient commercial traveller at East Mimms.

When Scott of the Antarctic
Lay freezing 'alf to death,
And crystals formed around him
Each time he took a breath,
He opened up his diary,
And this is what he wrote,
As the freezin' air got in his hair
And rattled in his throat:

‘Oh, we have been to the Pole, we 'ave,
And nearly come back too,
But none of the men is feeling well
And I've got a touch of 'flu.
And if we never make it,
And we meet our demise,
I'll tell you now - it was the snow
That took us by surprise.’

Oh, yes, it's the same old story!
We never foresee it at all!
Though the skies go grey at the break of day
We never think snow will fall!
They say we're never ready
When it comes to ice and snow,
But here's one Brit with a bit of grit,
Whatever fate may throw!

'Cos if the temperature should drop
And the icy winds should blow
From the Urals via Norway,
And bring untimely snow
To Lincolnshire and Norfolk,
And trap me in my car,
You won't find me a-moaning
And making a hoo-ha,
'Cos I've got central heating,
An electric curtain rail,
A mini-bar and loads of food
To protect me from the gale!

For some may customise their cars
To make them twice as fast
And some may paint on orange flames
Which sneer as they roar past,
But I've adapted my saloon
To make a comfy ride.
It may be snow and ice out there
But it's party time inside!

Oh, when Mallory and Irvine
Went off up Everest,
They only took a pair of gloves
And an extra woolly vest.
They travelled light and climbed at night
To get there twice as fast,
But they had come to a standstill
Before much time had passed.

Said Mallory to Irvine:
‘I cannot move my feet!’
Said Irvine back to Mallory,
‘And nor can I, my sweet!’
Said Mallory to Irvine:
‘I'm afraid we're frozen in.’
Said Irvine: ‘And we're going to die.
Oh, well. Too bad. Chin chin.’

Yes, Mallory and Irvine
Had got the wrong supplies,
It was the snow that done for them
And took them by surprise.
But I can never be surprised
By what the weather brings,
'Cos my old car is full of food
And lots of tasty things.

I've got a little gas ring,
And a small electric loop,
On which I cook my supper
And heat my chicken soup.
Around me in the gridlock,
Along the frozen M,
I see them shivering in their cars
And I raise my glass to them.

They shake their fists in fury,
And hurl their insults back.
And I just smile and gently sip
My warming Armagnac.
Oh, they say we're never ready
For a bit of ice and snow.
But some of us will make no fuss
When it's twenty degrees below!

Old Stanley and old Livingstone,
They did get one thing right.
They went away to Africa,
Where it's nice and warm at night,
And never went to Everest,
Or anywhere with snow,
And did not make the least attempt
To convert the Eskimo.

It wasn't a bed of roses
For Speke and Mungo Park,
But you never heard them once complain
Of freezing after dark.
‘We may get beri beri
And the bloomin' tsetse fly,
But at least at night there's no frostbite
And the bedclothes stay quite dry!’

So here's a toast to those, like me,
Who are ready for the snow!
And if you're passing by my car
Drop in and say hello !

There are many more verses to this ballad, but this gives you the idea. Soon to be collected in the forthcoming "Golden Treasury of Motorway Verse".

The Independent Mon Feb 3rd 2003

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